New Zealand can no longer boast of having the largest lily in the world – the cabbage tree (Cordyline australis, ti kouka) – as botanists have moved it into the asparagus family. The tree can be seen almost everywhere, particularly (but not only) in damp places.
I’ve been told that early settlers used the hollowed-out trunks of cabbage trees for their cottage chimneys because the trees are so resistant to fire, and now I’ve even read it on the DOC website, where there are several other interesting facts including that cabbage trees are one of the most widely cultivated of our native plants and are grown in Europe, Britain (where they are known as the Torquay palm) and the United States.
Parts of Cordyline australis are edible and Maori also used the fronds for weaving sandals and baskets.
The trees can grow to 9m or more and the plant will regenerate from a destroyed trunk, although since 1987 the trees have suffered from something known as Sudden Decline, believed to be a pathogen possibly transferred from tree to tree by the Australian passonvine hopper.
There are several other forms of cabbage tree, including Cordyline banksii, which has particularly large flowers, the small Cordyline pumilio (up to 1m high and across) and Cordyline indivisa (mountain cabbage tree – see an avenue of them at Larnach Castle, near Dunedin).